• Think intelligently: Four ways to create and ask very good questions

    by  • November 19, 2012 • Masterclass, Think Wisely

    We can all ask questions. But few of us have ability to ask good questions.  Which is a pity because good questions get better answers. And give us an insight into how other people think.

    And into what we think ourselves. Because when we ask ourselves good questions. We see our assumptions. Question them. And think more clearly as a result.

    There are five types of good questions. Open. Closed. Specific. Probing. And Hypothetical. Learn the ones that are new to you. And then use them often. Think of them as muscles you need to keep in shape.

    1. Think about how to ask good questions

    Good questions get good answers. Because they home in on the right issues. And get you the information you need. Which helps you to understand the issue and move it forward.

    Questions help you to see what’s missing and what needs to be put in place. For example, the answers to “What if….?” questions can give you more information and dig deeper into the underlying issues. They let you see things differently. And explore other sides of the question.

    Don’t be afraid to ask questions that not knowing the answer to may make you sound foolish. Never pretend to know more than you do. Admit what you don’t know to yourself. And ask a question.

    2. Think about your bias

    We are all biased and prejudiced in one way or another. These are our blind spots. We need to know what they are.  Asking challenging questions of ourselves can help us to do that. Once we know what they are. We need to work hard to stop them from distorting how we think. They don’t go away. They lurk in the dark corners of our minds waiting for a chance to trip us up.

    Learn to see what’s really there rather than what you expect. Ask “What do I really know?” Refuse to make assertions or to accept them. Challenge every issue that you or others put forward. Do not be intimidated by anyone or anything. Always ask the questions you need to. And change your thinking when the facts say otherwise.

    3. Think about all the angles

    Think how others are likely to see the issue. Put yourself in their shoes. Argue their arguments. Listen to how the are likely to see your arguments. How does what you think stand up numerically. Do the sums. Look at it graphically and physically. Socially. Financially. See how everything fits together. Where you fit in and how others fit in.

    And if you are in doubt. Ask questions that will get the answer. Asking probing questions will give you a deeper appreciation of the issues. It will help you to understand others and where they are coming from.

    No matter what the issue is you should always think of questions to ask. It will make you into a very active listener. A gatherer of information. A sifter of it. And a much more knowledgable person.

    What goes on inside your head is what counts. How you convert what you hear into learning is what makes the difference. Listening on its own will not do this for you. You need to ask questions about what you are hearing to make real sense of it. Just like a prospector sifts through the sand to find nuggets of gold.

    4. Learn to use different types of questions to get the information you need

    1. Open questions. They begin with: What…?: Why…?: When…?: Who…?: Tell me about…?: Give me examples of…? When framed well they can provide you with a good deal of information. Examples:  “What is the goal of our task?”   “Why would we do that?”  “When can we expect to be able to achieve?” “Who should take responsibility for this part of the project?’ “Tell me about how that would work? ” “Give me examples of the benefits we will get from this project?”

    2. Closed questions are useful for checking facts because they require a yes or no answer. For example: “Have you finished the stock taking?”

    3. Specific questions. These are used to determine facts. For example: “How much have we spent on this project?”

    4.  Probing questions are used to check for more detail and information. They are good for exploring specific issues. For example: “What do you think of our customer service levels this year? “How is our new service doing in terms of  customer retention?”

    5. Use hypothetical questions to get people to think of  new situations. For example: “What would we do if that happens?” “Suppose these talks breakdown where does that leave us?

    Good questions advance the task in hand . They also build relationships and help those involved to learn and develop their competence. The questions can be tough and direct provided they are asked in the spirit of making progress. And that they solve problems and make people aware of their assumptions.

    Suggested learning exercises

    1. Read pages 73 to 94 in Burger and Starbird(2012). 2 Imagine in detail how a more skilled thinker would create and use questions. 3. Identify the added knowledge, understanding and previous experience an expert would use to create and use questions. 4. Instead of thinking that creating and asking questions is going to require more concentration and effort. Identify the knowledge, skill and strategy that would make it an easier task for you. 5. Use this knowledge, skill and strategy to create and ask questions.


    Burger E. & Starbird M. (2012) The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking: Woodstock UK: Princeton University Press. http://blogs.hbr.org/ashkenas/2011/08/the-art-of-asking-questions.html http://www.itbusinessedge.com/cm/blogs/tennant/why-mastering-the-art-of-asking-questions-is-so-essential/?cs=50037 http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples/examples-of-open-ended-and-closed-ended-questions.html http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/open_closed_questions.htm http://www.zimbio.com/Scholarship+Recommendation+Letters/articles/3/Free+Samples+General+Specific+Interview+Questions http://blog.readytomanage.com/examples-of-probing-interview-questions/ http://www.gettoknowu.com/LifeLessons/Hypothetical_Moral_Quandaries.php


    We can use positive psychology to improve how we live our lives. So I love to share my understanding of it with others. To help them grow and flourish as I have. The posts on this blog set out to do just that. You need a lot of skill to make a relationship a happy one. So I write about relationship skills. Skills you can learn how to use in your own relationship. To keep it in good shape. To solve problems that may arise in it. And to improve the quality of your relationship. To make both of you happy.